Cultivating Urban Forests Policies in Developing Countries

Author:Janet A. Choi
Position:J.D. candidate, May 2011, at American University Washington College of Law
Urban forests offer benefits for the inhabitants of urban
and peri-urban1 environments, but cannot flourish with-
out cultivation and management. The successful prac-
tice of urban forestry involves managing trees within the urban
environment to contribute to the physiological, sociological, and
economic we ll-being of urban populations.2 The sustainability
goals of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
(“Rio Declaration”)3 and subsequent Forest Principles4 are inad-
equate to foster urban forests in developing countri es, because
they fail to empower decision-makers and citizens to implement
such pol icies. Instead, expanded efforts of the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) to enable commu-
nity and state actors by raising awareness and sharing resources,
in addition to movements to localize sus tainability, will fo ster
more urban forestry.
Experts predict unprecedented urban growth in develop-
ing nations.5 This rapid rat e has r aised concerns of incre ased
environmental, social, and economic problems. In Brazil, where
the population is currently eighty percent urban, the city of São
Paulo demonstrates a failure to plan for urban growth.6 Allow-
ing tree removal to clear space for housing has increased the
likelihood of flooding and landsli des, and impaired the natural
areas and watersheds that existed in peri-urban areas.7
In addition, negative environmental effects of urbaniza-
tion—such as deterioration of air quality, higher te mperatures,
and increased noise po llution—lead to great er psycholo gical
and physical stre ss, resulting in dec reased quality of l ife and
increased health prob lems.8 The urban poor suffer dis propor-
tionate harm by negative environmental effects,9 which come at
a particular cost to children and women. Children’s bodies are
extremely susceptible to polluting toxins.10 Women often suffer
the “fe minization” of poverty, or a general so cietal inequality
posing challenging barriers to the control of economic resources,
governance, and power.11
Urban forests provide an array of protections against these
harms.12 Trees help moderate climat e and redu ce the de mand
for energy. They cool and filter the air, absorb noise, and pro-
tect soil and wildlife. They provide for basic needs such as food
and fuel and for raw materials to generate income. Finally, trees
add value to cities by delivering aesthetic appeal, while enhanc-
ing the quality of life and increasing property values. However,
urban forestry progr ams mu st in volve effective planning to
avoid inadvertently causing other probl ems, such a s displace-
ment of important native species.
While urban forestry may promote sustainable development,
a lack of awareness, combined with inadequate legislative and
cultivating urban ForeStS policieS in
Developing countrieS
by Janet A. Choi*
* Janet A. Choi is a J.D. candidate, May 2011, at American University Wash-
ington College of Law.
institutional frameworks, has inhibited its full potential, espe-
cially in developing countries.13 Urban forestry does not fit neatly
into the agendas of international agreements.14 The Convention
on Biological Diversity, for example, may concern protection of
trees, but it focuses more narrowly on a sovereign nation’s right to
fair sharing of genetic resources.15 Moreover, the development of
formal urban forestry is rooted in the United States and only more
recently, in some parts of Europe.16 Thus, fostering urban forestry
in developing countries requires facilitated information exchange
and technological transfer.17 However, it will be important to con-
sider context when employing those new resources. Different pri-
orities may arise in urban areas in the developing world, such as
alleviating poverty and addressing wastewater, rather than purely
aesthetic or financial values.18
For the urban forestry m ovement to gain momentum, it is
important to encourage inclusion through the full pa rticipation
of citizens, civil society, and local and municipal government.19
The Rio Declara tion20 and its no nbinding Fore st Principles 21
attempt to promote such coordination in supporting public par-
ticipat ion and information-sh aring. Of particular relev ance,
Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration asserts that “[e]nvironmental
issues are best handled with participation of all concerned cit i-
zens, at the relevant level,”22 and the Forest Principles calls for
the inter national exchange of forest managem ent research and
development.23 H owever, these provisions are unproductive in
isolation, because they neither bind nor build capacity for what
they advocate. Moreover, they conflict with the explicit declara-
tions in both documents th at states have the sovereign right to
exploit their own resources.24 Indeed, opposition by developing
countries concerning this right’s intrusion prec luded the Forest
Principles’ possible binding effects.25
The F AO has be en a cha mpion of urban forestry, raising
awareness, performing assessments, disseminating information,
increasing instituti onal capac ities, and recommen ding polic y
strategies.26 Yet, ev en with the FAO’s participation in the Col-
laborative Partnership on Forests27 and the 2000 formation of
the UN Forum on Forests,28 international bodies have otherwise
failed to focus on urban forests on their agenda.29 International
efforts would be far more effective in supporting the capacities
of the FAO itself.
Implementing urban forest policies will require peo ple to
think and act locally, utilizing shared information and resources
FALL 2010 40
in place-based, grassroots efforts.30 One strategy that has shown
some success is siste r-city or country arrangements , such as
Malaysia and Denmark’s development of education programs,
staff and student exchange, and inter national certifi cation for
Malaysian tree care professionals.31 This way, best practices and
relevant research are shared at lower costs to developing nations,
without giving up local control or relying on the sluggish move-
ment of international law.32
1 See Cecil C. Konijnendijk et al., Urban and Peri-Urban Forestry in a
Development Context—Strategy and Implementation, 30 J. oF arboriculture
269, 271 (2004) (emphasizing that “tree resources outside—but close to—urban
areas” contribute to urban societies).
2 See Cecil Konijnendijk & Michelle Gauthier, Urban Forestry for Multi-
functional Urban Land Use, in citieS Farming For the Future: agriculture
For green anD proDuctive citieS, 414-16 (René van Veenhuizen ed., 2006)
(discussing further urban green’s economic and livelihood values, environ-
mental and ecological values, and social and cultural values); E. Jane Carter,
The Potential of Urban Forestry in Developing Countries: A Concept Paper,
Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (1994),
docrep/005/t1680e/T1680E04.htm#ch4 (last visited October 17, 2010).
3 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de
Janeiro, Braz., June 3-14, 1992, Rio Declaration on Environment and Devel-
opment, UN Doc. A/CONF.151/26/Rev. 1 (Vol. I), Annex I (Aug. 12, 1992)
[hereinafter Rio Declaration].
4 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de
Janeiro, Braz., June 3-14, 1992, Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement
of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and
Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.151/26
(Vol. III), Annex III (Aug. 14, 1992) [hereinafter Forest Principles], reprinted
in 31 I.L.M. 881.
5 CIA World Fact Book, ctr. intelligence agency,
publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html (last visited October 17, 2010)
(urbanization section). Indeed, some of the largest urban populations include cit-
ies in developing countries, such as New Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata in India,
Dhaka in Bangladesh; Karachi in Pakistan; São Paolo in Brazil; and Mexico City in
Mexico. See also U.N. Population Fund, State of World Population 2007: Unleash-
ing the Potential of Urban Growth, U.N. Doc. E/31,000/2007, U.N. Sales No. E.07.
III.H.1 (2007),
(reporting that many of the people moving to cities will be poor and recommending
pre-emptive approaches to environmental problems in urban areas).
6 See george martine & gorDon mcgranahan, intl inSt. For envt &
Dev. & the un population FunD, braZilS early urban tranSition: what
can it teach urbaniZing countrieS? (2010),
pdfs/10585IIED.pdf (reporting how the rate of urban growth has outpaced land
use planning efforts and describing deforestation effects).
7 See id.; U.N. Expert Group Meeting on Population Distribution, Urbaniza-
tion, Internal Migration and Development, Social and Environmental Aspects
of Peri-Urban Growth in Latin American Megacities, at 10, UN. Doc. UN/
POP/EGM-URB/2008/10 (Dec. 19, 2007) (by Haroldo da Gama Torres), http:// (connect-
ing peri-urban expansion in Sao Paulo, Brazil to further deforestation).
8 Guida Kuchelmeister & Susan Braatz, Urban Forestry Revisited, 44
unaSylva 173, available at
(last visited October 17, 2010).
9 See generally David Satterthwaite, The Links between Poverty and the Envi-
ronment in Urban Areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America, 590 annalS oF the
am. acaD. oF pol. anD Soc. Sci. 73-92 (2003) (arguing that good governance in
implementing effective environmental policies can reduce poverty and increase
environmental health needs).
10 Susan L. Cutter, The Forgotten Casualties: Women, Children, and Environ-
mental Change, 5 global envt change 181, 186-91 (1995).
11 Id. at 186-87, 189-93.
12 See Konijnendijk & Gauthier, supra note 2 (noting that urban forests reduce
polluted air, heat, water runoff, and impacts health); Carter, supra note 2
(discussing benefits and arguing that environmental problems in urban areas
in developing countries are not trivia); see also Irus Braverman, “Everybody
Loves Trees”: Policing American Cities Through Street Trees, 19 DuKe envtl.
l. & poly F. 81, 84-87 (2008) (explaining environmental and social benefits
and describing “tree projects” in North American cities).
Endnotes: Cultivating Urban Forests Policies in Developing Countries
13 Ulrika Åkerlund et al., Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Urban
and Peri-urban Forestry and Greening in West and Central Asia, LSP Working
Paper 36, 7-8, 11-15 (2006),
14 Lidija Knuth, Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Legal and
Institutional Aspects of Urban and Peri-Urban Forestry and Greening 6-15
15 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro,
Braz., June 3-5, 1992, Convention on Biological Diversity, art. 1, 15(1), June 5, 1992,
1760 U.N.T.S. 79, available at
16 Konijnendijk et al., supra note 1, at 271-73 (relating how urban forestry
study started in the US in the 1970s); Konijnendijk, supra note 2, at 421, 423
(reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) Forest Service
generates new research through special urban forestry research centers and
describing the institutionalization of urban forestry policies in the U.S. existing
and funded at federal, state, and local levels).
17 See Konijnendijk & Gauthier, supra note 2, at 420-22 & Gauthier (calling
for technology transfer and information sharing, education, and training, within
and between countries).
18 Konijnendijk et al., supra note 1, at 272 (differentiating priorities in the developing
world versus the “Western world,” where emphasis lies on green areas’ economic values).
19 See Åkerlund et al., supra note 13, at 14.
20 Rio Declaration, supra note 3, at princ. 10. (“Environmental issues are best
handled with participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the
national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning
the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous
materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in
decision-making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and
participation by making information widely available. Effective access to judicial and
administrative proceedings, including redress and remedy, shall be provided.”)
21 See Forest Principles, supra note 4, at 2(c)-(d) (listing information sharing
and broad participation).
22 Rio Declaration, supra note 3.
23 Forest Principles, supra note 4, at 12 (c) (recognizing the importance of interna-
tional exchange of information, research and development of forest management,
including resources of education and training institutions and the private sector).
24 Rio Declaration, supra note 3, at princ. 2; Forest Principles, supra note 4, at 2(a).
25 John lemonS & DonalD a. brown, SuStainable Development: Science, ethicS,
anD public policy 3 (1995). The same concerns and lack of means for implementa-
tion reappear in the more recent Non-legally Binding Instrument on All Types of
Forests. U.N. Forum on Forests, Feb. 24, 2006, & Apr. 16-27, 2007, Report of the
Seventh Session, U.N. Doc E/CN.18/2007/8, E/2007/42, http://daccess-dds-ny.
26 See Konijnendijk et al., supra note 1, at 272, Table 1 (summarizing FAO’s
comprehensive mid-term plan for urban and peri-urban forestry program);
Åkerlund et al., supra note 13, at 5.
27 About CPF, collaborative p’Ship on ForeStS,
cpf/44935/en/ (last visited Oct. 23, 2010).
28 About UNFF, Multi-Year Programme of Work 2007-2015, un Forum on
ForeStS, (last visited Oct.
23, 2010) (mentioning urban forestry only once for a plan in 2013).
29 See Claire R. Kelley, Institutional Alliances and Derivative Legitimacy, 29
mich. J. intl l. 605, 631-33 (2008) (summarizing critiques on the ineffective-
ness of CPF and UNFF, including project delays, lack of transparency and real
dialogue, and insufficient data).
30 Timothy Beatley & Richard Collins, Americanizing Sustainability: Place-
Based Approaches to the Global Challenge, 27 wm. & mary envtl. l. &
poly rev. 193, 194-96, 208-10 (2002) (criticizing the effectiveness of the Rio
de Janeiro conference but finding solutions in local strategies, although here,
the author discusses an American context).
31 See Konijnendijk & Gauthier, supra note 2, at 424.
32 Id. at 416.